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386                 HISTORY OF PERSIA                CHAP.
ately loosed a hawk and under the pretence of looking
for it disappeared from sight and rode off north. He
reached Isfahan, a distance of three hundred and sixteen
miles, in three days, and almost without halting continued
his journey to Mazanderan, seizing a revenue caravan on
the way. Upon his arrival in his native province many
members of his tribe rallied round him. He was, how-
ever, opposed by his half-brother, Murtaza Kuli,1 who
proclaimed himself king, and it was not until after many
vicissitudes of fortune, during the course of which he was
once taken prisoner, that he was in a position to make
himself master of the Caspian provinces.
The Expulsion of a Russian Expedition by Aga Mohamed^
A.D. 1781.—During this period of his chequered career
Aga Mohamed came into contact with a Russian expedi-
tion, consisting of four frigates and two sloops, which
in 1781 anchored off Ashraff and extorted permission to
construct a trading factory. When the fortress—for such
it proved to be—was nearly completed, the Khan invited
the Russian officers to an entertainment, where they were
seized. They were then offered the alternative of either
destroying their fort or being hanged. Their choice was
soon made ; the fort was demolished, and the Muscovites
were driven with contumely back to their ships.
The Independent Provinces of Persia.—The series of
campaigns culminating in the awful tragedy in the Kerman
province described in the previous chapter left Aga
Mohamed the victor but hardly the undisputed master of
Persia. Before we come to the steps he took to con-
solidate his power at home and abroad, it is necessary
to give a brief account both of the independent provinces
of Persia and also of her neighbours.
Khorasan was nominally ruled by the unfortunate
Shah Rukh, but in reality was broken up among a
number of independent chiefs. At Meshed the two sons
of the monarch, Nasrulla Mirza and Nadir Mirza, fought
for power, and their feuds resulted in the plunder of the
shrine of the Imam Riza, each prince in turn robbing it of
1 His only full brother, Husayn Kuli Khan, the father of Fath Ali Shah, had been
killed by the Turkoman at the instigation of the Kajar Khan of the rival brancb> after
his flight from Damghan recorded in the previous chapter.